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By Jondou Chase Chen
Content warning: Patriarchy, misogyny, and racism in communities of color.
This year has been filled with some tough reckoning for me as a cishet man of color. Aziz. Sherman. Bill. Junot. Each of these men of color is in the wrong. Each of these men of color has positively impacted me. Both of these are true statements. That doesn’t mean they are equal or off-setting, though. In fact, they are connected. I’m writing now to try to make sense of that painful connection, to name the responsibility that men of color to do and be better, and to offer possibilities for justice not just for sexism but for racism as well.
I’m writing this having read and being committed to continuing to read and believing the experiences of women and GNC folks of color. I don’t intend to write to center another man of color’s voice. And if my intent doesn’t match my impact on you, I want to acknowledge this, ask that you stop reading this now, and offer if you’d like to write or have other writing that you would like to offer instead, to please share. For everyone – whether my writing on this works for you or not – if you haven’t already, please read Carmen Maria Machado, Roxane Gay, Adrienne Maree Brown, Janet Mock, Thi Bui, Robin Wall Kimmerer, and Alok Vaid-Menon – who are each 1000 times the writer I am.
This post began as a friendly response to Erin’s post last week on why we center race here on Fakequity. It’s not because I disagreed with Erin. It’s because part of fake equity is oversimplifying a complex world into a single story. One of the many reasons I love being part of the Fakequity team is because we’re not all the same. We have different identities, different experiences, and different ideas. My biggest fear with Fakequity is I’m not sharing as much as I’m getting from the group. Erin’s writing pushed me last week. She had some ideas I hadn’t thought of before. She had some ideas I didn’t completely agree with. She had some ideas that raised up new ideas in me. For all of this, I’m grateful. And one more thing. I’m glad Fakequity isn’t just led by people of color, I’m glad it’s led by women of color who are consistently committed to speaking their truth and calling in other truths. This post then is my call-in to other men of color: until we deal with sexism, patriarchy, and misogyny within our communities of color, we will not end racism.
This is the violence of single stories. Why were these celebrity men of color so important to me? Because they were often the closest thing I had to a mirror for seeing myself and men of other PoC groups in the U.S. media. And as each allegation of sexual violence, harassment, and non-consent has entered the public domain, it’s been like watching a slow strike in bowling where the pins fall like dramatic dominoes rather than with one convincing crash. I can feel myself getting defensive, and I have to interrogate myself. I believe each accusation. I’ve seen brothers of all colors do this, get called on it, and still get away with it for years. My defensiveness verbalizes itself as, “But this is all we’ve got!” And where I need to push myself is, “And this has never been enough.” What we miss when we turn breakthrough figures into single-story heroes is that this can further oppression. In our joy at finally seeing a mirror of ourselves, we believe this is good enough. And when we find out that the mirror is cracked and our heroes are not only hurt people but are hurting people, we struggle to accept this because we are afraid of going back to no stories and no representation. This fear is real because our histories support this. Yet this fear cannot be all that troubles us. We have to believe we are worthy of more than single stories. Men of color, we need to refuse any narrative that explicitly or implicitly presents our story as THE story for all people of color.
This is the violence of patriarchal racism. When dominant culture only allows for one success story from each marginalized group (and let’s be honest, “some” is more appropriate than “each”), who is most likely to be represented? Those in positions of power within the marginalized group. The straight or passable gay man. The person with lighter skin or more money or who is able-bodied. To make matters worse, this is rarely something that only passively happens. As people of color we are set up to compete with each other to be that single representative, and “by any means necessary” has meant tapping into the systemic power of sexism, heterosexism, classism, etc. We are told to man up, punch up, and grab the bull by the horns. And for those who have been selected to represent all of us, being at the top has meant having access to the rewards of hierarchy. Awards and titles are part of this and so is access to and power over people looking up to and even dependent on you. This is not a guarantee for abuse, but it certainly sets the table for it. And given the vast majority of minoritized peoples do not fit this single story of success, these single stories actually help uphold systemic racism.
And as a man of color far from the top of the celebrity mountain, I need to recognize the ways in which I have defended myself from racism by tapping into my dominant identities – by knowing how to be one of the boys, by being a “strong” (read manly) leader, by being confident and self-assured (which would be read differently if I were not a man). Does tapping into these behaviors help me survive racism? Yes. But does it actually do the work of liberating me or people of color more broadly? I don’t think so. And yes, I get that men of color are being held accountable in ways differently than white men and this is a form of racist patriarchy – but honestly, are you actually okay with anti-racist patriarchy? Men of color, we need to acknowledge that only highlighting male resistance (and especially cishet male resistance) to racism reinforces racism along with other systems of oppression.
This is what why we need real racial equity. In a reposted blast from the past, Erin wrote, “we can’t have other equities until we have racial equity.” I completely agree with this. And I’ll also add: we can’t have racial equity until we have all other equities within racial equity. Read all the writers I listed above and then keep going to prevent any of the authors I’ve listed here from being the single story of (faux) racial equity. Apply intersectional lenses to ourselves, our oppression, our communities, and our liberation. Recognize that success for individual celebrities and subgroups of the marginalized is model minority tokenism and wedge politics and not actual justice.
None of us are free, until all of are free. And for this collective solidarity to be really true, we also need to appreciate the intersectional needs that we each have. As well-intended as “my liberation is bound in yours” can start, all too often, it becomes a statement of false equivalency. For instance, when I hear white people make this statement to me as a person of color, I can’t help but think, “Are you saying your oppression as white people is the same as mine?” I then see my concern played out in anti-racist work when workshops and lectures on whiteness are repeated over and over again without ever getting to restorative justice, reparations, and self-determination. Turning the mirror on myself, I wonder how often people of color who aren’t men justifiably roll their eyes at me when I get on my soapbox talking about racial justice and what I really mean is “Just(ice) for Men (of Color)”? I need to commit to acknowledging my positionality, yes, and taking on toxic masculinity, especially in communities of color, yes. And then what is the justice for others that I need to hear and honor and commit myself to in order for there to be real, meaningful equity, and not just another iteration of fakequity. Men of Color, we have work to do.
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